Lessons in happiness for hundreds of Bristol University students

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Hundreds of students at the University of Bristol are taking their first lessons in happiness.

Each week, those on the Science of Happiness course will attend an hour-long lecture as well as meetings with fellow students.

Their levels of happiness will be scored at the beginning and end of the course, which takes place over a 10-week period.

More than 400 students signed up for the optional course in just three days, figures that are believed to be unprecedented at the university.

Lectures take place on a Wednesday afternoon, a time traditionally kept free for students to take part in sports or social activities.

Professor Bruce Hood, who is leading the course, highlighted that participants will receive no academic credit for it.

“The reaction to the course has been phenomenal. We haven’t seen this level of uptake (before),” he said.

“Remember, this isn’t a course for credit. These are students who are doing it because they want to do it and that means a highly motivated audience.”

The students will be given exercises to choose from and put into practice for one week.

These include expressing gratitude for people and things, practising random acts of kindness, sleeping more and meditating.

Participants will also attend weekly “Happiness Hubs”, where they will reflect on the course with fellow students.

Prof Hood said: “We think there are a number of things going wrong when it comes to achieving and sustaining levels of happiness.

“I think part of the problem starts in school. There’s a lot of expectation to achieve high levels of grades and those expectations come with the students to university.

“Even before they get to university they’re already registering issues of stress. Then there is the issue of student debt.

“This is the first time really that we’ve had these high levels of debt, which is causing anxiety.

“Then there’s the political uncertainty, the uncertainty of the job market and then of course the problem of social media.

“I don’t think social media is creating these problems but I think it’s certainly amplifying them by presenting students with levels of achievement which are unsustainable and unreasonable.”

Prof Hood said he hoped the students taking part in the course would feel empowered to share their happiness knowledge with others in the community.

The University of Bristol has a number of approaches to improving well-being and pastoral care, including the course.

Thousands of students have signed up to an opt-in scheme, agreeing for university staff to inform a designated parent, guardian or friend if there are serious concerns about their well-being.

Earlier this week, Professor Judith Squires, pro vice-chancellor at the university, described the Science of Happiness as “pioneering”.

“We hope it will be hugely beneficial to our students, not just during their time at university but throughout their lives,” she added.

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